Kurt Waldthausen, n.d.

Kurt Waldthausen, n.d.

Kurt Gerhard Waldthausen: An Expert Among Entrepreneurs


Kurt Waldthausen's career is typical of the modern globalized manager and entrepreneur: after beginning his career in Bremen and with stints in Pakistan, Brazil, Columbia, and Argentina, Waldthausen held management positions at several subsidiaries of German companies based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Drawing on his global experience as a manager, Waldthausen started his own international executive recruiting firm, Waldthausen & Associates, in 2000 to focus on helping companies from the German-speaking world place candidates in their U.S. subsidiaries.

When a company hires me to recruit their top executives they get a lot more than hopefully very good candidates. They get an explanation of the differences of cultures. —Kurt Waldthausen[1]


Being a German immigrant entrepreneur in the U.S. is difficult. Many German entrepreneurs or companies that look to enter the U.S. market do not meet resounding success despite the opportunities that drew the investment in the first place.[2] The approaches that serve firms well in Germany and in German-speaking markets can falter when applied to the United States. Success requires an understanding of the values and norms that define American business culture and a willingness to accept them.

Kurt Waldthausen (born May 20, 1949 in Estoril, Portugal) offers an understanding of business environments that he believes are foreign to German executives. At Waldthausen & Associates, he synthesizes his knowledge and insights into trends to realize their value and communicate them to other executives without that experience. His expertise comes from his heritage as part of a family of entrepreneurs as well as his early career spent managing different subsidiary operations around the globe. In the 1970s, Kurt developed his preference for personal involvement in daily operations (as opposed to distant management). For him, this management style provides an ideal springboard to understand culturally specific business values, interactions, and the local work ethic. With his move to an executive position in the United States in 1982, the primary concern became communicating his visions to the headquarters across the Atlantic. Ultimately, the ability to interpret and explain these transatlantic nuances would become Waldthausen’s business and service to the Charlotte community.

Family Background and Merchant Heritage

Born in Portugal, raised in Bremen, studied in Bavaria, ran business operations from Argentina to Pakistan by the age of thirty, lived in the United States for most of his life, helped revive jazz in Charlotte: Kurt Waldthausen’s experience in navigating cultures across the globe has become his most marketable asset. But in the Waldthausen family, this experience was not unique.

Kurt Waldthausen comes from a merchant lineage. His father and namesake (Kurt) Herbert Waldthausen (June 17, 1911–January 18, 1977) was born in Sydney, Australia, while Kurt’s paternal grandfather Georg Waldthausen (August 11, 1882–July 16, 1961) was most likely visiting the wool exporting operation of Lohmann & Co. Ltd. with his wife Elisabeth (née Lahusen; July 15, 1887–May 5, 1982).[3] Georg’s managing role at Lohmann & Co. continued a centuries-old tradition of trade and manufacturing endeavors in the Waldthausen family—one of the earliest recorded members of the family, Jobst Waldthausen, was involved in the textile trade near Hameln.[4] The branch of the family that moved to Essen at the beginning of the eighteenth century became heavily involved in the wool trade and ultimately opened the Wilhelm & Conrad Waldthausen wool business in 1820.[5] This merchant heritage also exists in the lineage of Kurt Waldthausen’s maternal grandfather Walter Cramer.

Walter Cramer was born in Leipzig on May 1, 1886.[6] He married Charlotte Weber, the only daughter of the factory owner Emil Weber, in 1910 after being promoted to the rank of second lieutenant as a reserve officer in imperial Germany.[7] Together they had three children: Leonore, Gerhard, and Josepha—Kurt Waldthausen’s mother. Walter became the director of the worsted wool spinning mill Gautzsch AG in 1919 and of the Stöhr & Co AG in 1923.[8] At Stöhr & Co. Cramer was at the helm of one of the leading wool operations in Germany. The company weathered the financially turbulent twenties and thirties through a combination of determination, the financial support of Charlotte, and institutional innovation in the form of new technologies like the use of the perfect-ring machine.[9] Walter’s formative experience abroad and struggles for reform in the regulation of the textile, and more specifically wool, sector led him to become active in civilian resistance against National Socialist Germany.[10] His tensions with the Nazi regime intensified and Cramer got involved in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. The attempt failed, however, and the Gestapo arrested Cramer for his involvement two days later. He was hanged for treason on November 14, 1944.[11]

Early Life and Career Beginnings

Kurt Gerhard Waldthausen was born on May 20, 1949, in the civil parish of Estoril near Lisbon, Portugal.[12] He is the youngest of five siblings. His parents, Kurt Herbert Waldthausen and Josepha Waldthausen (née Cramer) moved to Portugal to avoid the possible repercussions of Walter Cramer's involvement in the assassination attempt.[13] Kurt Waldthausen has fond memories of his childhood in Lisbon. His family moved back to Bremen when he was five years old. There he finished his primary education and later attended the Schloss Neubeuern Internat—a boarding school in Bavaria—before completing his schooling in Bremen. This was followed by an apprenticeship completed while employed with Johann Gottfried Schütte & Co., an international trading company. Kurt was offered a position to stay on at a subsidiary in South Africa but decided to follow his father into the import-export business at Lohmann & Co.[14]

Kurt Waldthausen began his career at the Lohmann & Co. branch in Bremen. The firm was originally an outgrowth of an international operation centered on the wool trade from Australia. The original Weber, Lohmann & Co. Ltd. in New South Wales, Australia, founded by Alfred Lohmann and Arthur Weber in 1892, needed a branch in the then German Empire to facilitate the export of goods from Australia and to complement the expanded department for German imports in the Commonwealth.[15] Weber, Lohmann, & Co. Ltd. on the Australian continent consisted of several offices including Melbourne and Brisbane. Kurt entered the firm in 1970 and began working in the export office. At the same time, his brother Jobst was working in the wool-focused department of Lohmann & Co. In 1970, Lohmann & Co. had several international subsidiaries in addition to the original office in Sydney and the operation headquarters in Bremen.[16]

The subsidiaries of Lohmann & Co. focused on exporting products from Germany and provided goods to smaller markets without requiring excessive investment from manufacturers. They represented larger corporations like Mercedes-Benz, Siemens, and Bosch in locations where having a dedicated office was not a profitable option for these German industrial conglomerates.[17] Kurt’s work in the export department of Lohmann & Co. in Bremen was preparatory for an assignment to one of these exporting subsidiaries.

Formative Years Abroad

Kurt Waldthausen’s first years in the family company included his inaugural assignment in Pakistan. In September of 1971, the twenty-two-year-old boarded a flight to Karachi. His predecessor stayed on for two more years to provide training and supervise the transition so that Waldthausen would not step into a leadership vacuum. As Waldthausen Sr. had intended, this was a position for his son to “grow into.” It became one of the formative experiences of Kurt’s career.[18]

Waldthausen remembers the “smell of spices…so entirely different from any smell [he] had ever experienced” as the doors of the Lufthansa flight opened.”[19] He passed camel carts, donkey carts, and “trucks loaded to the gills with cotton bales” at two o’clock in the morning and realized that he was now in very unfamiliar territory, on another continent and in an entirely different culture. Looking back, Kurt describes his experience as “a page out of the book One Thousand and One Nights.” He was gripped by a sense of adventure, and this same sense of adventure would propel him further eastward during his vacations to see much of East Asia and Australia over the next few years.[20] In many ways, these experiences shaped his future career.

Pakistan in 1971 was a nation under duress. After twelve years of martial law, questionable elections, and multiple constitutions, the presidential election on December 7, 1970, set loose a wave of pent up regional tension between East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan.[21] With the United Nations Security Council in gridlock due to Cold War geopolitics, tensions escalated to a full-scale war between West Pakistan and India on December 3, 1971.[22] The conflict was short-lived—less than two weeks—but had lasting effects on Pakistan. The newly installed president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began trying to rebuild the demoralized country and restore the legitimacy of the new government after the loss of East Pakistan which became the independent country of Bangladesh.[23] His policies included reforms to revive the economy and radical attempts to restructure production sectors.

For Lohmann & Co., the tenure of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was good for business. Although the country was at war while Kurt Waldthausen was living there, the fighting was almost exclusively focused on East Pakistan/Bangladesh, over one thousand miles from Karachi. The subsidiary was not affected physically from the violence that struck East Pakistan in the coming months.[24] For firms importing machinery like Lohmann & Co., their presence offered physical capital in the floundering Pakistani economy and manufacturing sector as well as trained engineers in industrial machine production.[25] In fact, in the midst of a widespread nationalization of industry, foreign companies did not fall under this reform and remained private in an otherwise public sector.[26]

Waldthausen concedes that the company’s success in Karachi under his tenure was—in part—accidental due to external factors and recalls how encouraging this business environment was for the then twenty-three year old managing director. It was also the interpersonal connections and sense of community in Karachi that made his time there “one of the best times in [his] life.”[27] Social organizations like the Gymkhana club provided an avenue for Kurt to foster personal and professional relationships outside of work. The club provided a relaxed social atmosphere for an evening drink with Pakistani friends and acquaintances. As the managing director of a German corporate subsidiary in Pakistan, Kurt Waldthausen experienced not only a new set of local traditions, cuisine, and lifestyles, but also enjoyed a standard of living that was in many ways above that which would have been available to him in Bremen. He lived with two other Germans who worked for other German firms. They had several servants in the house which Waldthausen describes as a compound with walls and a night watchman. This allowed for a degree of flexibility despite the demands of the managing director position because the household duties were under the purview of the servants.[28]

Logistical challenges were an intrinsic part of daily business. In order to call the headquarters in Bremen, Waldthausen had to order a connection to Germany through international operators. At times, it could take days to get a connection to Europe, but by developing friendships with the exchange operators, the process could usually be expedited. When the connection to Germany had finally been established, poor quality was the norm. Thus, telegrams remained the medium of choice for Waldthausen’s communications between Europe and Pakistan. In the end, these logistical challenges provided more freedom in running the operation and, by necessity, meant a greater reliance on local manager expertise—which was to Waldthausen’s benefit.

On an average night, Waldthausen and his two housemates would receive between fifty and sixty telegrams.[29] Considering that they worked for separate firms which each had its own suppliers, headquarters, and subsidiary networks, the amount of communication prevented any kind of micromanagement from the center of operations in Bremen. Of course, the headquarters retained control over each of their subsidiaries, but day-to-day operations relied heavily upon the individual leadership at each location. The fact that these telegrams were arriving at night also meant that, unless Waldthausen received a telephone connection from Europe while at the office, he was responsible for immediate decisions. Attempting to contact headquarters would mean a delay of at least a day if not more due to the time difference. Thus, the extensive training that he received from his predecessor included local expertise that encompassed both the inner workings of business in Karachi as well as learning a certain amount of self-reliance. It was an initial taste of the responsibility and freedom of entrepreneurship.

Lufthansa played a central role in the German community of Karachi. Lufthansa service to Karachi probably began in 1934 with the flight between Berlin and Shanghai.[30] The German airline’s early presence as a major cargo, post, and passenger carrier created new business opportunities along the route.[31] With the introduction of jet aircraft to the new Lufthansa fleet in 1960 and the expansion of the Bangkok route, Lufthansa again offered a crucial connection to Germany and later to Sydney, connecting subsidiaries of Lohmann & Co. through a single freight and passenger airline network.[32]

Lufthansa provided not only a physical connection to Germany in the form of flights, but also a cultural connection. When someone needed a particular item that could not be found in Pakistan, they could order it through Lufthansa. From butter to pumpernickel, Lufthansa would send these supplies on one of the few flights they had to Karachi over the week. For expatriates, it was a preservation of a certain “Germanness” through these particular goods from Germany. Waldthausen remembers the Christmas trees in particular.[33] In an Islamic republic, he and his fellow expats were able to order a hallmark German tradition from over four thousand miles away. The desire for these German cultural goods also contributed to the solidarity of the community. The station manager for Lufthansa in Karachi “had many friends,” owing in part to the fact that “the dinners at his home were always the best because he had just about everything flown in from Germany.”[34] The manager created a central point through which the Germans working and living in Karachi had access to these products—a tangible connection to the culture that these expats sought to maintain.

Waldthausen’s time in Karachi illustrates the sort of balance that would define his further career and entrepreneurial ventures. On the one hand, the experience of Pakistan was unlike anything that Kurt Waldthausen had experienced, and he was fascinated by the culture and people. He used all of his vacation days while in Pakistan for trips around the region and further east, not once returning to Germany. He did, on the other hand, also seek to maintain his German identity by way of cultural norms, familiar activities, and imported German products.

Kurt Waldthausen returned to Bremen in 1976 after five years in Pakistan. Though given the option to remain in Karachi, he felt that the time had come to move on in his career.[35] He then spent six months with a subsidiary in Portugal to learn the workings of the operation there. This stay also allowed him to improve his Portuguese. When the training period concluded Kurt went to South America to spend over a year moving between subsidiaries and familiarizing himself with the operations, intending to one day oversee the international subsidiaries of Lohmann & Co.[36]

For the first six months, he worked at Banco Alemão Transatlantico, a subsidiary of the Deutsche Bank in Sao Paulo. Then he visited branches in Chile, Columbia, and Argentina for two to three months each to acquaint himself with operations there. Waldthausen was also tasked with assessing the opportunities of opening more subsidiaries in South America and traveled to Ecuador and Peru to explore options alongside personnel from the already established subsidiaries. The experience of working with managers of subsidiaries on the ground in these countries was a compressed introduction to the management duties he would have when he returned to the Lohmann & Co. headquarters in Bremen.

Upon returning to Bremen in 1977, Kurt took over managing the fifteen export-oriented subsidiaries of Lohmann & Co. Shortly thereafter, his father passed away. Kurt spent the next five years shuttling between offices on various continents and Bremen, managing issues alongside local management. Tasked with so many subsidiary operations and constant traveling, Kurt was often not able to be personally involved in day-to-day decisions. After his experience in Pakistan and South America, however, he longed for the responsibility of running a business.

Kurt Waldthausen’s oldest brother Jobst had already immigrated to the United States by the time Kurt took over managing the export-oriented branches of Lohmann & Co. Jobst lived in Southborough, Massachusetts, and became involved in the wool business there, first buying into a small company and later taking over ownership.[37] Whenever Kurt was at the Grand Rapids subsidiary, he tried to make his way east to see his brother. The family connection made the visits to the Michigan subsidiary personal and began Kurt’s love of American life and culture. Though his initial exposure to the United States was limited to his brief business trips, Kurt accepted an executive position with the Hettich Group in 1982 as head of their U.S.-based operation.

Subsidiary Expertise and Executive Experience

The move to an executive position built upon the managing experience Kurt had gained at Lohmann & Co., particularly in Karachi. He could again invest himself in the intimacies of running one company, which he had missed during the last five years. The early 1980s were full of transitions on a personal level, too. The same year he started at Hettich, Kurt married Geertje Brinkmann in Bremen.[38] The couple moved full-time to Charlotte as it became the headquarters of Hettich America. A daughter, Antonia Cathrine Charlotte, was born on September 19, 1985.[39]

The Hettich group was and remains one of the largest global manufacturers of furniture hardware.[40] The family-run corporation opened its American branch in 1979 under the name of Heinz America, LTD in Greensboro, North Carolina.[41] When Kurt took over as president of the U.S. operation, he wanted to consolidate the Greensboro and Charlotte subsidiaries to strengthen the position of the company.[42] The Hettich Group supported the move and created Hettich America Corp in 1983 with Kurt Waldthausen at the helm. Under his tenure, Hettich America opened a new distribution facility in south Charlotte and the Hettich Group enjoyed continued growth.

This was the first time in his career that Kurt Waldthausen was representing a brand.[43] His previous experience with Lohmann & Co provided him with a trading background, but at Hettich America, Waldthausen was the face of the manufacturer to its American customers. He was responsible for selling and promoting Hettich furniture hardware in the United States, which would quickly expose him to the subtle differences in strategy and conduct in the U.S. market. As a distributor of Hettich harware, Waldthausen’s operation mostly focused on service and promotion. He had to create value in an American market that tends to value price over quality and places a heavier emphasis on customer service.[44]

His time at Hettich America ended in 1988 when the company began acquiring the sliding hardware manufacturer GRANT.[45] It made sense logistically to relocate the distribution operation to Harrisonville outside of Kansas City, Missouri, as opposed to try moving the manufacturing facility to Charlotte. Kurt, however, was set on staying in the Charlotte area. He had recently remarried to Regina Dubbers-Albrecht and a daughter was on the way (Veronica Marie Waldthausen was born September 10, 1988. A second daughter with Regina Dubbers-Albrecht, Anna Victoria Waldthausen, followed on March 12, 1990).[46] On February 1, 1988, Kurt left Hettich America and took over leadership of Holz-Her U.S. Inc.[47]

Holz-Her U.S. Inc. was a subsidiary of Reich Special Machines (RSM) GmbH. The Reich Special Machines group was a large producer of stationary woodworking equipment. The operation Reich Special Machines focused specifically on research and development while the independent subsidiaries handled sales, service, and distribution. This setup followed a dis-incorporation of the manufacturing of stationary woodworking equipment from the Karl M. Reich group of companies that had previously encompassed the Holz-Her product group.[48] The Holz-Her U.S. operation in Charlotte was responsible for servicing the entire country.

At the time Kurt took leadership of the American subsidiary, Holz-Her U.S. was struggling to remain profitable and sustained losses immediately prior to Kurt’s arrival. For him, this presented a fortuitous “turn-around situation.”[49] With the help of like-minded colleagues, Kurt implemented radical cuts in the number of employees and introduced other changes to resuscitate the operation. The measures cut many jobs, but by the end of 1988, Holz-Her U.S. was operating in the black.

In the early 1990s, Waldthausen took part in the Executive Program at the University of North Carolina.[50] The Executive Program was a non-degree executive education program that stressed broadening the perspectives of managers and business leaders by bringing together executives from different companies and industries.[51] It helped Kurt Waldthausen develop his understanding of differences in management between U.S. and German culture. At the same time, the market for Holz-Her in the Americas was growing.

Kurt became chairman of Holz-Her Canada in 1995. Holz-Her U.S. received the North Carolina Export 20 Award three times in the 1990s for its success as an exporter.[52] In 1998, the Charlotte headquarters expanded to a 75,000 square foot facility.[53] In the midst of these successes, Kurt Waldthausen continued to learn and improve his managing skills, relying on peers and coworkers for insights into the American business mindset.[54]

At the beginning of the new millennium, Waldthausen left Holz-Her. The owner of Reich Special Machines partnered with equity investment company BWK GmbH in 2000 to increase capital and allow for further expansion.[55] The partnership entailed the sale of a significant portion of RSM stock (approximately one-third) and, according to Waldthausen, led to management that was not supportive of his vision of growth for Holz-Her operations in North America.[56]

For Waldthausen, the support of the owner family that he had previously enjoyed had enabled the growth of the subsidiary operation. The relationships and trust that developed in the family-owned corporation had made it easier to communicate the needs of the subsidiary. There existed a space to discuss and be heard that Waldthausen found to be absent with the numbers-oriented approach of equity companies. The message coming from the parent company in Germany emphasized the operation in Europe and intimated that Holz-Her would close the assembly line in the United States and move the manufacture of all equipment back to Germany.[57] This would have limited Kurt’s agency as an executive and weakened his position to suggest strategies for the American market, as he would be reduced to a distributer. For Waldthausen, pursuing his vision proved more important than maintaining his leadership position over the sizable operation. Kurt decided to take his expertise and drive for independence and start his own company in Charlotte.

Seeking Independence

Kurt Waldthausen opened his own retained executive search firm, Waldthausen & Associates Inc., after his departure form Holz-Her in 2000. This venture allowed him to build upon his own experience and success as a German executive working in the United States. He realized that the opportunity for growth lay in the recruiting side of his small startup. Because he was not a trained C-level recruiter, Kurt partnered with the executive search firm Coleman Lew & Associates and operated under the Coleman Lew name.[58] He intended to focus exclusively on “clients from German-speaking Europe who had subsidiaries in the United States and who needed to find people to run these subsidiaries” while Coleman Lew sought a more domestic clientele. Ultimately, this difference in aims led to an end of the partnership between the two companies in 2005. Kurt could now focus exclusively on his German-speaking client base.

There were plenty of German businesspeople in North Carolina. As of 2006, the state was the site of over two hundred subsidiary operations and $4 billion of investment by German firms.[59] Today, in 2014, there are nearly two hundred German-owned firms in the greater Charlotte area alone, including nearly sixty U.S. headquarters. This makes Germany the most largely represented foreign country in the region, and North Carolina “home to one of the largest contingents of German subsidiaries and related companies in the nation.”[60] Local institutions like the German-American Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, Georgia (GACC South), support these companies with membership services, consulting, and various programs and networking events. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), currently being negotiated between the United States and Europe, is likely to increase German-American business relations even further in the future.

Today Waldthausen & Associates works with GET AHEAD and Pearlfish Partners, also recruiters related to German-American business needs, to offer a range of services for firms looking for executives, specialists, or middle management in Germany or the U.S. Kurt’s firm handles the recruiting of senior management in the United States.[61] Waldthausen offers his clients years of first-hand international business experience and seeks to provide candidates that fit the requirements of managing a firm in the United States. That intercultural know-how is at the heart of Waldthausen & Associates. By restricting his target market, Kurt is able to draw upon his accolades as president of multiple subsidiaries and upon his extensive international experience. He has placed himself in a strategic geographic location where German corporations are heavily investing in United States subsidiaries, and his overhead is low.[62] His current operation is six people including himself, working out of a spacious office suite in Charlotte.[63] After having run larger operations in the United States for eighteen years, this transition to a significantly smaller operation is a choice—the choice to be as intimately involved in each of his company’s projects as is reasonably possible.

Kurt stresses that many firms looking to expand their operations on the North American continent by opening a business in the United States fall into the trap of relying on their previous models and strategies to achieve success.[64] He admits that he also fell into this way of thinking when he came to the United States in 1982 and tried to translate his prior successes without accounting for the individual context of the operations. At the root of the issue, he says, are the superficial similarities between Germany and the United States.

When Kurt worked in Karachi, the differences were apparent at the surface level. The food, dress, religious practices, and collective pastimes reaffirm this cultural difference, which is then expected to extend to other arenas of interaction, including business practices. But the United States seems—at first sight—very familiar to German executives. That apparent familiarity betrays the norms that define American business interactions and can create misunderstandings because managers do not know that the “hot buttons,” as Kurt calls them, are different.[65] The most apparent miscommunication, in his experience, often rests upon a directness of Germans that can seem rude to their American colleagues. American politeness, on the other hand, relies on understood expressions and cues that carry meanings beyond their words.[66] In terms of career perspectives, Americans tend to focus more on opportunity and will change careers multiple times over the course of their life while Germans tend to have a more static approach to careers and hiring.[67]

For Waldthausen, John F. Kennedy epitomizes a quintessentially American spirit that has “less to do with a thousand years of history,” as is the case for many traditions in Europe.[68] He provides advice that does not fit into the way his clients think they should approach business in the United States; Kurt is trying to overcome “a fault embedded in humans that most people can only learn from making their own mistakes and paying for it versus accepting a different opinion which may sound so radical that it’s hard to believe.”[69] He acknowledges that of course there is no one, homogeneous American culture; there exist a multitude of regional and local cultures. He speaks instead from his own experience in the United States. While this experience is most applicable to North Carolina and operations in the Southeast, is time at Holz-Her placed Kurt at the helm of the national organization, and management of the Canadian subsidiary taught him business expertise far beyond Mecklenburg county.[70] The ties Waldthausen has to the local community in Charlotte, inside and outside the business world, express an outgrowth of the cultural mediation that forms the basis of his current work at Waldthausen & Associates.

Community Engagement

In his role as consultant, but also as a private citizen, Kurt Waldthausen embodies a connection between Germany and the United States. In addition to offering his expertise and cultural insights to help German businesses manage their subsidiary operations in the U.S., he tries to encourage more social interaction between the two countries on a local level. He has participated in over a dozen organizations in Charlotte at the leadership level that promote international business and networks.[71]

Waldthausen has been actively involved in community service organizations in Charlotte for over two decades, something that has allowed for greater insight into the American mindset, as he puts it, much like the days in the Gymkhana Club in Pakistan.[72] When Kurt received the Richard Vinroot International Achievement Award in May of 2000, he set out his vision for the future of internationalization in Charlotte and has since worked towards its fulfillment. He called for, among other things, establishing an international, citizen-oriented center to house international organizations, ethnic clubs, and nonprofits; for ensuring that young Americans leaving high school know at least one foreign language; for introducing classes on cultural diversity into the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools curriculum; and for increasing opportunities for college students to study abroad and engage in exchange programs.[73]

In June 2002, Kurt became the honorary consul for the Federal Republic of Germany, a position he held until the fall of 2013.[74] As honorary consul, Kurt served the local German community in Charlotte and North Carolina and functioned as a contact point for anything having to do with German-American relations. In fact, his involvement in the Charlotte Sister Cities Committee, a charitable organization which promotes cross-cultural exchange; the Mayor’s International Cabinet, which has similar aims; and the World Affairs Council, a “regional center for education and discussion of world affairs” reveals the extent to which Kurt has established himself in Charlotte’s official connections to international networks.[75]

Waldthausen also participates in discussions on German-American relations while in Germany. He has appeared on the television program “Länderspiegel” and been a contributor to German books focused on international and intercultural management.[76] For his work as an honorary consul, Kurt received the Cross of Merit on the ribbon (Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande) from the Federal Republic of Germany in 2008—a distinction similar to the knight’s cross grade. This honor provides an avenue to “lay hand on what is dear to the person who is the honorary consul because…[it] carries a certain weight and the position has a certain respect.”[77] In Kurt’s case, one of the initiatives that is dear to him is the German Language and Culture Foundation.

Kurt, his wife, and three of their friends were part of the founding group of the German Language and Culture Foundation (GLCF) in 2006.[78] Today he is still an active member of the board. The Foundation works to facilitate “friendship” between Germany and the Charlotte region by promoting German language education and organizing support from the German-speaking business community in Charlotte to sponsor student exchanges; both of which are also efforts to attract investments from German-speaking Europe.[79] These “bridge-building projects” at the center of the Foundation’s work and especially their annual fundraiser “Jazz in the Village” give back to the Charlotte community by highlighting the history of the area. Jazz in the Village was one of the first events in the recent revival of jazz in Charlotte.[80] Given jazz music’s historical roots in the southern United States, this was an opportunity for the GLCF to establish its role as a supporter of American culture. The event has now grown to draw large corporate sponsors and allowed the GLCF in 2013 to award over $100,000 in scholarships supporting more than 90 students to fly to Germany to perfect their German language and intercultural skills through home-hosted exchanges.

In September 2013, Kurt received The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, a prestigious award from the state of North Carolina bestowed on “persons who have a proven record of service to the State of North Carolina or some other special achievement.”[81] More recently, Waldthausen spearheaded efforts to install a fiberglass “Buddy Bear” in front of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. This international public art project originated in Berlin several years ago and features individual artists’ designs on these six-foot tall statues for display all around the world. They are meant to promote a better understanding between cultures. Local painter Sharon Dowell designed the Charlotte bear, and Kurt Waldthausen, along with other members of the local German-American community such as the Alemannia Society, the German Saturday School, the German American Chamber of Commerce, and the Language and Culture Foundation, raised a total of $6,000 for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation.[82]

On several occasions, Kurt Waldthausen has explicitly linked his drive to give back to the community to his maternal grandfather Walter Cramer.[83] Cramer’s sacrifice and willingness to fight for what he believed was right inspires Kurt in many of his endeavors. His desire to fight indifference led Waldthausen to participate in the Echo Foundation, where he sits on the Charlotte board of advisors. The Echo Foundation was initially a response to Elie Wiesel as he challenged Charlotte to act on its convictions in areas of “human dignity, justice, and moral courage.”[84] It seeks to dispel the idea that the individual is powerless in fighting the injustices of the world and has brought speakers to Charlotte to talk about issues including global health care and ethnic reconciliation.[85] These talks come with an educational component meant to inspire a shift in perspective and a sense of action. All of these ideals echo the inspiration that Kurt Waldthausen has taken from his grandfather.


Kurt Waldthausen’s life and career show how valuable intercultural knowledge is. His ability to learn from his international experiences and capitalize on that knowledge form a crucial part of his transnational entrepreneurship. Simply bringing business experience and personal drive from one’s home country will not necessarily reap the same rewards or lead to success across the Atlantic. There must be a willingness to learn and an ability to interpret the things unsaid—to go beyond the surface of the iceberg, as Kurt would say. That does not mean abandoning one’s heritage. In Waldthausen’s case, Germany is his homeland, but his community is in America. Here, he continues a family tradition of business and entrepreneurship, but focuses on a smaller operation that allows him to pursue personal interests in the community as well. Kurt has begun reducing his professional commitments, but his drive remains. He describes the most difficult part of this transition as the feeling that “I have completed nothing. I have begun things. I have started things. And, yes, they may have turned out well, but there is so much more to do.” [86]


[1] Kurt Gerhard Waldthausen, interview by the author October 31, 2013.

[2] See Andreas Back and Markus Lahrkamp, Geschäftserfolge in den USA: Erfahrungen deutscher Unternehmen im Land der ungenutzten Möglichkeiten (Wiesbaden: Gabler, 2001) for an analysis of German subsidiary operations in the United States. They outline the factors that make the U.S. market attractive: the size of market creates space for unprecedented growth while the barriers to foreign investment are comparatively low; a successful U.S. subsidiary allows for independence from fluctuations in Germany and Europe; technological developments and logistics technologies often find their beginnings in the U.S. (15). In their market analysis, most German operations remain small and struggle to grow due to problems of product marketing, a general turn from innovation to conservatism, and a lack of investment from the German headquarters (29-41).

[3] Torsten Fiddelke, “Wollhandelsfirma mit eindrucksvoller Geschichte,” Die Welt, June 21, 2001 (accessed August 26, 2014).

[4] Waldthausen, interview by the author. Also see Max Bär, Geschichte der Familie von Waldthausen in Niedersachsen (Hildesheim: August Lax, 1929).

[5] Karl Mews, “Ernst Waldthausen: Ein Beitrag zur rheinisch-westfälischen Wirtschaftsgeschichte,” Beiträge zur Geschichte von Stadt und Stift Essen 41 (1923): 43.

[6] Beatrix Heintze, Walter Cramer: Ein Leipziger Unternehmer im Widerstand (Köln: Deutscher Instituts-Verlag, 1993), 10.

[7] Heintze, 11.

[8] Heintze, 14.

[9] Heintze, 16, 22. Cramer’s invention helped sustain minimal losses during the turmoil of the late 1920s. He also fought against the control of the government in the regulation of synthetic wool blends. He improved the efficiency of worsted wool production at his facility in Leipzig incorporating the various stages of the process on the same floor.

[10] Heintze, chapter 5.

[11] Heintze, 123, 176.

[12] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[13] Heintze, 11.

[14] Email from Kurt Waldthausen to the author, January 28, 2014; Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[15] Fiddelke, “Wollhandelsfirma mit eindrucksvoller Geschichte.”

[16] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. The story Waldthausen refers to is also known as Arabian Nights in English.

[21] Craig Baxter, “Pakistan Votes —1970,” Asian Survey 11, no.3 (March 1971): 212. This election was the first direct vote in Pakistan since its independence in 1947. The pro-secession party (the Awami League) in East Pakistan won an absolute majority and had planned to create a constitution that incumbents felt would dismember Pakistan. The response was a crackdown in East Pakistan called Operation Searchlight that in reality was a genocide against civilians. Also see Philip Oldenburg, “‘A Place Insufficiently Imagined’: Language, Belief, and the Pakistan Crisis of 1971,” The Journal of Asian Studies 44, no. 4 (August 1985).

[22] Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

[23] Sumit Ganguly, Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001) 79-100.

[24] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[25] An example of this is Ancillary Machines in Karachi (accessed August 26, 2014).

[26] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, interview by Peter Grubbve, May 1972, transcript (accessed August 26, 2014).

[27] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Joachim Wachtel, ed., Die Geschichte der Deutschen Lufthansa 1926-1984, 3rd ed. (Köln: Deutsche Lufthansa Aktiengesellschaft, 1984), 67. Karachi is not explicitly mentioned as a stopover on the Berlin-Shanghai route, but it is on the map of the route, 63.

[31] Wachtel, 23. Pran Nath Seth and Sushma Seth Baht, An Introduction to Travel and Tourism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 2003), 111. In 1938, the Lufthansa-sponsored Eurasia Aviation Corporation transported 26,471 passengers, 582.6 metric tons of freight and 283.4 metric tons of mail. Lufthansa was dissolved following WWII. Lufthansa reappeared as a joint-stock company in 1954 and focused on its European network, Wachtel, 77.

[32] Wachtel, 110.

[33] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid. Also Kurt Waldthausen, phone interview by the author, July 9, 2014.

[37] Ancestry.com. U.S. Public Records Index, Volume 1 (database on-line). Waldthausen, interview interview with the author. Boston was the capital for wool in the United States at the time.

[38] Die Maus Gesellschaft für Familienforschung e.V. Bremen, “Familienkundliche Sammlungen (Graue Mappen).”

[39] Ancestry.com. Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Birth Index, 1865-2012 (database on-line).

[40] http://www.hettich.com/us_EN/home.html (accessed August 26, 2014); Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[42] Waldthausen, interview by the author; Kurt Waldthausen, CV as of October 25, 2013.

[43] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[44] Back and Lahrkamp, 55-56.

[45] Waldthausen, interview by the author; http://www.hettich.com/us_EN/company/portrait-and-key-figures/about-hettich-america-lp.html (accessed August 26, 2014). Hettich America purchased the door hardware company GRANT in 1991 according to their website. The move to Harrisonville was completed in 1992.

[46] Ancestry.com. U.S. Public Records Index, vol. 1 (database on-line). Original data: Voter Registration Lists, Public Record Filings, Historical Residential Records, and Other Household Database Listings. Kurthausen’s first wife and daughter returned to Germany after the divorce.

[47] Waldthausen, CV.

[48] Holz-Her GmbH, “History,” (accessed August 26, 2014).

[49] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[50] Waldthausen, CV.

[51] Kip Kelly, “60 Years of Leadership Development & Business Education,” Executive Development Blog, Kenan-Flagler Business School, Feb 6, 2014, (accessed August 26, 2014).

[52] Waldthausen, CV.

[53] Holz-Her GmbH, “History,” (accessed August 26, 2014).

[54] Kurt Waldthausen, phone interview by the author, July 9, 2014.

[55] Holz-Her GmbH, “History,” (accessed August 26, 2014); and Holz-Her GmbH, “HOLZ-HER Reich Spezialmaschinen Decides on Succession with HANNOVER Finanz Gruppe and Aims at Growth,” May 18, 2008, (accessed August 26, 2014).

[56] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[57] Kurt Waldthausen, phone interview by the author, July 9, 2014.

[58] Waldthausen, interview by the author; and Waldthausen, CV. “C-level” refers to the senior executive positions of corporations (CFO, CEO, CCO, CIO, etc.)

[59] Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig and Barbara Stiem, ed., “Kurt Waldthausen,” in Honorary Consuls, (Washington D.C: Embassy of the FRG Department for Press, 2006), 118.

[60] http://charlotteusa.com/business-info/international-business/germany/ and http://www.gaccsouth.com/en/our-region/north-carolina/ (both websites accessed August 22, 2014).

[62] Media release by Waldthausen & Associates, June 8, 2012.

[63] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Timothy Roberts, “'Y'all come and see me' vs. 'kommen Sie, bitte',” Charlotte Business Journal, Mar 27, 2000.

[67] Kurt Waldthausen, “Ein Amerikaner oder ein Deutscher?” Personal Manager HR International (August 2012).

[68] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Waldthausen, CV.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Kurt Waldthausen, phone interview by the author, July 9, 2014.

[73] Kurt Waldthausen, “Charlotte's ready for the world stage,” Charlotte Business Journal, June 12, 2000, (accessed August 25, 2014).

[74] Nibbeling-Wriessnig/Stiem, 118-121.

[75] Waldthausen, CV; http://www.worldaffairscharlotte.org/ (accessed August 25, 2014). .

[76] Waldthausen, CV; Kurt G. Waldthausen, “Besonderheiten der Personalgewinnung in den USA,” chapter 7 in Interkulturelles Management, ed. Thomas R. Hummel and Ernst Zander, in Schriften zum Internationalen Management (Munich: Rainer Hampp Verlag, 2005), 157-163.

[77] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

[78] Ibid. The other three founding members are Rick Kasnick, Markus Schlüter, and Scott Syfert. All three were on the board of advisors in 2013.

[79] Waldthausen, interview by the author; German Language & Culture Foundation, “Our Work”, (accessed August 26, 2014).

[80] Courtney Devores, “Bechtler Jazz Keeps Growing,” Charlotte Observer, August 9, 2013.

[81] Seewebsite of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society (accessed September 15, 2014).

[82] Cf. Caroline Vandergriff, “International 'Buddy Bear' art project heading to Charlotte,” n.d.; Jeff Taylor, “6-foot Buddy Bear sculpture headed to Charlotte’s main library,” Charlotte Observer, May 16, 2014 (both websites accessed August 25, 2014).

[83] For example, see Jillian Shue, “Snapshot: Kurt Waldthausen,” Southpark Magazine, March 24, 2011.

[84] The Echo Foundation (accessed August 26, 2014).

[85] For example, see The Echo Foundation, “From Rwanda to Darfur: A Week of Hope & Reconciliation,” http://www.echofoundation.org/Past%20Projects%20II/Darfur/Darfur%20Main%20Page.htm; The Echo Foundation, “One by One by One…..Paul Farmer & Partners In Health,” (accessed August 26, 2014).

[86] Waldthausen, interview by the author.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Kurt Gerhard Waldthausen: An Expert Among Entrepreneurs
  • Coverage 1949-
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 27, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018